|Steamgard Part I: Introduction
(Portions of this article were originally published as a blog post in 2009.)
"Steampunk", you say?
Steampunk. Sometimes referred to as Victorian Science Fiction, Gas-lamp Fantasy, Steampulp, Weird West, Scientific Romance, et cetera. Most simply defined, it is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction set in an era where steam power maintains a place of prominence and has advanced in strange, even impossible, ways. The classic setting is 19th Century Earth, most often Victorian England, but this is not strictly the case.
The steam. The most notable element of steampunk is the technology. As previously stated, advanced or impossible steam-based technology (hereafter "steamtech") is the standard. The imagery of gears, pipes, pressure gauges and the omnipresent goggles associated with steampunk is borne out of these machines. Also, regarding gears, one could look further back in time to spring-driven clockwork creations of DaVincian genius. Electricity is usually known, but would be considered the cutting edge of advancement (such as the more incredible concepts of Edison or the near mythical inventions of Tesla). Steampunk will sometimes incorporate entirely improbable or fantastic technologies based on archaic scientific theories that have since been relegated to fringe science (airships held aloft by aether-filled balloons, for example).
The punk. The term "steampunk" is generally attributed to author K.W. Jeter in the 80s, who used it as a humorous play on "cyberpunk". Considered a misnomer by some, the anti-establishment ideologies associated with the punk movement are not as vital to steampunk as the technology, but they are not absent. When they are expressed, rebellion against imperialism, industrialization and mechanization (or in favor of them), or perhaps dystopian (even post-apocalyptic) settings would be the norm. Even in more optimistic expressions of steampunk, the darker side of progress would dim, if only slightly, brighter visions of human achievement.
And beyond. While imperial officers hunting down airship pirates by zeppelin, adventurous aristocrats exploring strange lands with pneumatic butlers or Sherlock Holmes thwarting the machinations of a self-aware analytical engine are all obviously steampunk, many enthusiasts have stated "steampunk is what you make of it." Wherever wonder at the future, the spirit of expansion and the march of imperialism meet the rise of industry, technological progression and a wary cynicism you can find steampunk in some form.
But what has this to do with Amtgard?
At first glance, Amtgard and steampunk might seem incompatible. The technology, the Victorian setting, and the complex props don't appear to mesh well with foam-battling wizards and warriors out of the medieval mold. However, by its nature, most steampunk is already more fantasy than science fiction . Much of the "science" applied in such settings have long since been disproved or were never thought of as plausible to begin with. It is a type of magic all its own that puts lightning into pistols, power into armor and the secrets of life and death into the hands of mortals.
When this project began, a common misgiving involved the creation of steampunk personae within Amtgard's official persona guidelines. Some critics said our rules resolutely forbid such a crossover (they do not) and some supporters said we could suspend the rules for a weekend (there is no need). Examination of the persona guidelines reveal comfortable acceptability...
"Real History: A persona should be based on people who could have lived before 1650 AD. The name, weapons, clothing, etc. are encouraged to be historically correct. Do not impersonate a famous historical figure." While it is true that "classic" steampunk usually takes place during the late 1800's and early 1900's, the differences from "real history" are so pronounced and the gadgetry so fantastic that it is removed from this category entirely. No conflict with the rules, here.
"Fantasy: The persona should be based on a book, movie, historical mythology, or a unique creation of your own. Again, do not impersonate a character from the medium you choose. Remember: Every persona must be either of an ancient, medieval, or swords and sorcery related background."
It is with this rule that steampunk in Amtgard truly lies. With the help of such things as enchanted metals or mystical heat-sources, steam-based and other technologies become comparatively simple, even intuitive, for ancient and medieval-styled cultures. The Gnomes of Azeroth are a currently famous example of that very notion. Other hallmarks of the steampunk genre, such as the expansion of empires, were hardly new when they occurred in our own 19th Century. The advanced weaponry and vehicles of the Fire Nation from "Avatar: the Last Airbender" show what a feudal, Asian-flavored culture can do when you pair fire conjurers with clever craftsmanship.
So, once you realize that you can have steampunk outside its Victorian time-place and that the "Jupiter Device" is just another way to call lightning, then you can see that there is room for the Mad Scientist and the Airship Pirate beside the Orc and the Wizard at the Amtgard table. Combining Amtgard and steampunk is easier than you think and the results can be pretty amazing.
Over the next few weeks (four installments, in all) we will look at the various ways to rethink the standard fantasy paradigm that many of us take for granted. In this instance, we are (obviously) exploring the steampunk genre as applied to Amtgard. We have come to call this synthesis "Steamgard". Steamgard is not an attempt to rewrite the rules of Amtgard or even add an extra or special set of rules. You won't find unique classes, rules for guns or even new monsters. What you will find is the familiar Amtgard that you already know how to play, just seen through a different lens. Goggle lenses, if you will.
Next installment: "Blood and Brass" wherein we will explore the more melee-oriented classes of Steamgard.
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